General Manager of Volvo and Aston Martin (Ezz El Arab), Muhammad Aboul Nour has had a long and illustrious career in the automotive industry that took him from one big-name car manufacturer to the next on an upward trajectory.
The recipient of many awards, Aboul Nour has always worked hard and developed his professional abilities, adamant on becoming the best, most sought-after in his field.
Cairo West sat with this business guru in the hopes of learning what it takes to carve out a solid career for yourself, how to turn a hobby into a profession, and how to become an effective leader.
You have an incredible depth of experience in the automotive industry, what can you tell us about your journey and what brought you to where you are today?
It all started when I was a child, cars were my hobby, I started collecting cars and sketching them at a very early age. Then I turned my hobby into my studies when I joined Cairo University, Faculty of Engineering, Power Section, where I ranked third in class.
The first-ever brands I worked with were Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari and Maserati, which was the best start anyone could dream of. Then I got hired at Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge dealer Ezz Elarab, where I participated in the International Skills contest and managed to achieve second and third place successively in the years 2003 and 2006 across Africa, Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe.
After being promoted to a service manager position, again, I received the Best Service Manager award for the year 2008. Challenging myself more, I decided to work at Chery Importer as After Sales Director serving a different customer segment and again, I received the Chery Service Excellence Award for the year 2011 for Best After Sales Service in the world.
My next journey was with the German Maker Mercedes Benz where I was promoted to a General Manager Position, widening my scope of work to include new areas like Sales, Business Development, Marketing, Finance and Admin. To further enhance my skills, I joined the Transition to General Manager Course at INSEAD which was a step up in my career path. Muhammad Aboul Nour
Currently, I manage Volvo and Aston Martin as General Manager. In my first six months, Aston Martin was awarded the Impressive Transformation Award for the year 2020. We started the year with 4 sales outlets and expect to end the year with 7 sales outlets and a state-of-the-art Excellence Center for used cars sales and After Sales Services. Through this hard work, we managed to grow the year-over-year volume by 70% at Volvo and by 150% at Aston Martin.
Which brands do you currently oversee and which market sectors do they cater to?
Currently, I am overseeing Volvo and Aston Martin in my capacity as General Manager. Volvo serves different customer segments starting from the Premium Compact up to Executive mid-size luxury, offering Freedom to move in a personal, sustainable and safe way. Muhammad Aboul Nour
As for Aston Martin, we serve the super car segment that is looking for a unique and one-of-a-kind driving experience. Each Aston Martin car is the essence of power, beauty and soul.
What is the main challenge that you see with your current role and how do you handle it?
For Volvo, the real challenge was to reposition the brand and work in a Selective and Exclusive Distribution System to be able to control the residual value of the cars as well to provide a premium service quality for customers.
These were the main pillars that we worked on by expanding and developing our network to meet the corporate brand identity requirements, providing customers the same premium experience at any location. As well, providing new services that were never offered before like approved used cars and fleet business program.
Volvo provides a unique car experience in After Sales across all car makers, which is the PST Personal Service Technician accompanying the customer through the full journey of receiving, repairing and delivering the car to the customer by the same technician.
For Aston Martin, the challenge was different. The main target was brand awareness and reaching customers to provide them with an exceptional experience and the opportunity to customize their cars according to their needs. This included delving into deep refined details resulting in a one-of-a-kind car having its own identity. You can hardly find two similar Aston Martin cars in Egypt. Muhammad Aboul Nour
I have to mention as well that working with a very strong, reliable and well-established organization like Ezz Elarab was the main factor for all this success; having the full support from the board and personally the chairman.
There is quite a buzz about the new Volvo V60. What excites you most about this family sized model, and where does it fill a gap in the market?
Before launching the V60, we studied the market and found a potential for this segment knowing that an average family in Egypt consists of 4 persons, which would not fit in a normal sedan and include luggage.
In the beginning, it was a very challenging model that failed with some premium car makers and was not offered by others as they didn’t even want take the challenge, however with attractive specifications and a well-priced car along with effective marketing activities, we managed to raise awareness of a non-estate market to accept the concept.
I think we’ve succeeded in doing so in a very short period, resulting in 10 times the volume sales of our competitors who introduced similar cars in this segment; and in only 8 months.
What is involved in establishing a brand presence in a highly competitive market?
When it comes to highly competitive markets, positioning the brand is critical because it is directly related to the customer’s perception of the brand, as well as its identity and value proposition. As well as achieving distinction so that it stands out from competitor brands/offerings and meets consumer needs/expectations. The primary goal of a brand should be to instill the desired perception in the target consumer’s head.
The focus of branding should be to provide intangible advantages to products, services, and enterprises in the form of emotional connections, beliefs, values, and sentiments that people associate with the brand. The brand may develop a strong identity or personality by deliberately establishing itself in the minds of the target audience.
Companies face challenges in building brands, such as being noticed, remembered, changing perceptions, reinforcing attitudes, and developing deep customer relationships, in addition to establishing “operational standards” in all areas affecting day-to-day brand-related activities. This can be applied to behaviors, management practices, service provision, customer relationship management, and performance achievement, among other things. Muhammad Aboul Nour
Where do the challenges lie in managing a huge team representing various brands, with multiple and diverse areas of responsibility?
Managing large, varied teams may be difficult. However, as a leader of a big team, the most essential professional connections you create are with your direct reports and management team, who assist the leader in putting plan into effect. By attempting to establish rapport and demonstrating that you are aware of their job within the team. This will go a long way toward ensuring that everyone is involved in and pulling in the same direction as you.
It’s critical that you not only develop good relationships with your team but also that you encourage them to succeed and believe in themselves. You should encourage them to make decisions and accept responsibility for tasks. As the head of a large team, a motivated, respected, and empowered management team might be your most valuable asset.
In every business, communication is likely the most critical aspect. It is critical for you to develop clear communication channels among your teams as a manager in charge of a large workforce. You oversee a big number of people and projects, each with its own set of priorities, which may be difficult to manage.
Be willing to assign responsibilities to team members who can absorb them and have the time and space to do so. On the one hand, this will free up time for you to focus on other objectives, but it will also allow those workers to take on higher-level duties and develop their skill sets.
What are your tips for effective leadership?
By being a role model to your team, being passionate and having a positive attitude, you inspire your team to be the better version of themselves and find a symbol to look up to and respect. Muhammad Aboul Nour
In addition to the above, encourage creativity, listen and communicate effectively, have a positive attitude, encourage people to make contributions, motivate your followers, offer rewards and recognition and keep trying new things.
Where do you see the automotive industry heading in the next few of years, and which areas would you like to see developed?
The main direction that all auto makers are heavily investing in is electrification. Most brands are aiming to have the full electric model range by 2030. I also see that all governments in all countries are introducing several incentives to motivate auto makers and customers to shift from internal combustion engines to fully electric battery vehicles.
I have to mention as well that we – Volvo – are the first to introduce Mild Hybrid Cars in Egypt, which are already available in the model year 2022 range, including the V60, XC40, XC60 and XC90.